What is whole grain and why is it healthy?
Whole grain products are touted as superior to our health. You have almost all grain products in a whole grain version, just think of whole grain bread or pasta. And rice can also be found in a wholemeal variant. But what exactly is whole grain? Why are whole grains healthier? And how do you make the best choice between a multigrain bread, a spelled bread or a wholemeal bread? In this blog we separate the wheat from the chaff and explain everything about whole wheat.
What does a grain of wheat consist of?
What exactly is whole grain? To explain that, we have to start with the grain of wheat. This is the seed from which a new plant will grow and therefore this grain is very rich in nutrients. A grain of wheat contains 3 main components: the flour core, the germ and the husk (bran).
- The flour core or the flour body consists mainly of carbohydrates and proteins. So there is a lot of energy in this. And that is also the reason why many athletes eat grain products. The natural sugars give you the necessary power for a workout. We use the proteins in the core to build and repair muscles. Part of these proteins, however, are the well-known gluten that not everyone digests equally well.
- The germ is the actual part that grows into a new plant. So it is actually the embryo of the plant that is in the grain of wheat. The germ contains many good fats, vitamins and minerals.
- The bran is the membrane around the flour core and the germ. This section contains most of the dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.
What is Whole Wheat?
This is actually very simple. Whole grain cereal products are made from the whole grain of wheat. So both the flour kernel, the germ and the bran. As a result, a whole grain product contains an ideal mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber . Whole grain bread is therefore very healthy, but because of the large amount of fiber, some people find it too difficult to digest and prefer brown or white bread.
To make brown bread, flour is used in which the bran and germ have been partially sifted out. This makes brown bread still very healthy, but slightly easier to digest.
If you really remove all bran and germ, you will only be left with flour. Flour still contains a lot of carbohydrates and proteins, but much less vitamins, minerals and fiber. Flour is used to make white bread and it is also often the basis for pastries. The advantage is that flour binds easily thanks to the proteins and makes the bread and pastries very light. Because there is no more fiber in it, it fills much less and you can eat a lot of it.
Multigrain bread consists of a mix of flour and wholemeal flour. It depends on the baker what the final composition is.
Why is whole grain healthy?
Because whole grain products use the whole grain, they contain the greatest number of nutrients. Food made from flour such as white bread and pastries, on the other hand, contains a lot of calories from sugars and hardly any vitamins, minerals or fiber.
Some of the healthy substances from whole grain products are the B vitamins (especially vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6 and vitamin B11) and minerals such as iodine and iron. Many of the beneficial health effects of bread are also mainly provided by the fiber. These ensure a healthy intestinal function and intestinal flora and give a satiating feeling. Whole grain bread contains an average of three times as much fiber as white bread!
The result of both of these factors? Whole grain products have a number of advantages that you will not find with white grains. The main ones are:
Protects against cardiovascular disease
Eating 90 grams of whole grain products per day would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 25%, according to the Health Council. This is because the healthy substances have a beneficial effect on inflammation and blood clotting.
Lower risk of colon cancer
Thanks to the presence of the fiber, the risk of colon cancer is reduced by 10%. The fibers ensure that food moves through the intestines more easily and ensure a smooth bowel movement. The indigestible fiber is fermented in the colon, resulting in fatty acids that have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
This is likely due to blood sugar balancing. A stable blood sugar level is not only an important factor in the prevention of diabetes, but also helps those who want to lose weight. White bread, on the other hand, causes a spike in your blood sugar. This is sometimes useful for an intense sports session, but not if you want to lose weight.
How do you recognize real whole grain food?
There is a catch. Not all whole grain is really whole grain. For example, brown bread sometimes only consists of flour and caramelized sugar is added to get a nice brown color. So don’t just base yourself on the color or the “healthy appearance”, but check the ingredients list.
The ingredient list is laid down by law and you can assume that it is reliable for all products in the EU. In the ingredients of a wholemeal bread you will find the first ingredient “wholemeal flour”. In addition, there are of course other ingredients such as water or yeast are present, but no flour.
Fortunately, it is relatively easy for bread. The law states that bread can only be called whole grain if the flour comes from 100% of the whole grain. In the Netherlands, this is supervised by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA).
Unfortunately, nothing has been laid down by law for all other products, such as crackers, pasta and pastries. Here the manufacturer can put “whole grain” on the packaging while the product mainly consists of flour. The golden rule applies here: check the ingredients list. Manufacturers do have to state the percentage of wholemeal flour and the percentage of flour on the packaging.
What type of bread, pasta or rice do I choose best?
Whole grain cereal products, as well as whole grain rice, contain much more healthy substances than their white variety. And thanks to the fiber you get saturated quickly, which is good if you want to lose weight.
Those who want to gain weight, on the other hand, could alternate wholemeal bread with brown or white bread to be able to eat just more. The same is true if you eat bread or a cracker before a workout. Then you want it to be digested as quickly as possible.
There is no difference when it comes to gluten. Both whole grain bread and white bread are high in gluten. The gluten is in the flour core. If you cannot tolerate the gluten from wheat well, you can look for bread made from a different grain. And here you also have the choice between the wholemeal or white variant. Rice is not a grain and does not contain gluten.